The code is more what you call a guideline


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Communications ethics and the challenges faced by corporate communicators in balancing serving their companies and serving their publics. A revised presentation originally given to an accreditation candidate class of the IABC Minnesota Chapter.

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The code is more what you call a guideline

  1. 1. “… the code is more what you‟d call „guidelines‟ than actual rules.” Communications Ethics Lisa Graham-Peterson, ABC Updated from a presentation originally given to the IABC Minnesota Accreditation Class, 2006
  2. 2. Our Discussion Today Defining ethics  Importance of ethical behavior  Current issues  Professional codes of conduct  Ethical decision-making tools 
  3. 3. Ethics: What comes to mind? Morality  Right versus wrong  Worthy or unworthy  Actions judged by society, stakeholders, publics  From the Greek word “ethos” 
  4. 4. Today‟s communicator Conflict resolution  Image counselors to senior management  Decision-makers about what is or is not  communicated to our key audiences Influencers about what is or is not covered by the  media
  5. 5. What drives the decision to “be ethical” Relationships  Credibility  Reputation 
  6. 6. Name that (unethical) tune FEMA video press conference, California wildfires  Walmarting across America blog  Weapons of mass destruction  Karen Ryan  Armstrong Williams  Enron and Arthur Anderson 
  7. 7. Edward Bernays “I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace.” Considered the “Father of Public Relations”
  8. 8. Ethical discussion Citizen journalism  VNRs  Astroturfing  Sock puppetry  Fake personas on social networking sites  Front organizations  Pay for play  Push polling 
  9. 9. IABC Research Foundation study Examined attitudes and practices relating to business  ethics and the communicator’s role Less than half of respondents’ organizations encourage  discussion of moral dilemmas and censurable conduct in the workplace Found a distinct divide among respondents as to the  role senior-level communicators should play; ethical conscience or messenger Communicators are mostly self-taught in ethical  decision-making
  10. 10. IABC Code of Ethics The IABC Code of Ethics is based on three different yet interrelated principles of professional communication that apply throughout the world. These principles assume that just societies are governed by a profound respect for human rights and the rule of law; that ethics, the criteria for determining what is right and wrong, can be agreed upon by members of an organization; and, that understanding matters of taste requires sensitivity to cultural norms.
  11. 11. Professional codes of conduct Important, but not everything we need.  Many put the practitioner in the middle of serving the  goals of the organization or serving the greater good of the public at large. Supported by education, but not enforced.  Not part of an environment that is equipped or trained  for ongoing, robust ethical discourse.
  12. 12. Consider the numbers According to the 1998 U.S. Bureau of Labor  Statistics, 485,000 reported working in the industries described as public relations, advertising, marketing and corporate communications Compare to current memberships of PRSA (28,000)  and IABC (13,000) Further compare to the percentage achieving  accreditation (applying studies of ethics within the profession)
  13. 13. Why do we need to “learn” ethical decision-making skills? The very nature of ethical dilemmas are unclear  and, often, uncharted. We may find ourselves alone in the decision-making  process. The “right” path takes many forms; it is not intuitive. 
  14. 14. How do we “learn” ethical decision- making? Start with a personal inventory: What values are  important to you? -Empathy -Honesty -Commitment -Sense of humor -Helping others -Flexibility -Diligence -Knowledge
  15. 15. Apply a moral philosophy Utilitarian analysis – Seeking the greatest good for  the greatest number, weighing benefits against bad outcomes. Consequence-based. Deontological analysis – Seeking the moral “right”  thing to do, as would become universal law by any other rational person. Non-consequence based.
  16. 16. Using Philosophical Tools Each approach has pro’s and con’s; each has  different results. Knowing when to apply/consider each is the art of  ethics; takes practice. Ethical professionals use both and compare results  for the outcome that maintains: Relationships Credibility Reputation
  17. 17. Checklist to Ethical Query Define the issue or conflict  Identify influencing factors  Identify key values  Identify defining parties (those affected/whom you  have a responsibility to) Select the ethical guiding principles  Make a decision and justify it 
  18. 18. References Bowen, S.A. (2006). The Business of Truth: A Guide to Ethical  Communication. California: IABC Research Foundation. Fitzpatrick, K.R. (2000). Ethical Decision-making Guide Helps  Resolve Ethical Dilemmas. New York: Public Relations Society of America. Johnson, C.E. (2005). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of  Leadership. California: Sage Publications Inc. Williams, D. Are you up for the challenge? First in a series on ethics  in business communications. IABC Toronto. Retrieved October 4, 2006, from World Wide Web:
  19. 19. References Cutlip, S, Center, A. & Broom, G. (2000). Effective Public Relations.  New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Davis, G.W. (2003). Identifying and analyzing ethical dilemmas.  IABC Washington D.C. International Conference Communication Training and Education. Retrieved August 23, 2006 from World Wide Web: Harrison, K., & Galloway, C. (2005). Public relations ethics: A  simpler (but not simplistic) approach to the complexities. Retrieved September 8, 2006, from the World Wide Web: PRSA Member Code of Ethics and Ethics Resources. Retrieved  October 4, 2006, from World Wide Web: